Thursday, February 07, 2008


The defenders of the Bill of Rights in America, those who argue and defend the freedom of the press from any government censorship, have already missed the greatest form of censorship ever achieved. The censorship of the news is not threatened by Big Brother but by the very media itself that owns and operates the news outlets.

In terms of broadcast journalism, so much censorship has already been imposed by the very news organizations producing the news that any other censorship will most likely go unnoticed. The selection of stories to cover, editing the stories and using the stories to advance their own agendas has become institutionalized in the media.

National network and cable news has been reduced to a series of spectacular photo ops and sound bytes thanks to the ever encroaching lust for more advertising by the owners while the local network affiliates have become a cesspool for senseless blabber in their selection of viable news. The result is the most bizarre news coverage imaginable.

Fortunately, the American public has not been fooled. Way back in 1969 network TV news peaked with 56.4 million households watching the news. By 1980 52.1 million watched the news and by 2008 26.3 million watched the news. If you add all those people who abandoned the networks for cable including CNN. Fox News and MSNBC, a total of 9.26 million more, then 35.5 million people now watch the news.

To put things a different way, in roughly the past 40 years the American population has increased about 100 million while TV news watching has lost 21 million viewers. Maybe the average American voter has noticed that the evening news shifted from information to entertainment sandwiched between about 14 minutes of advertisements. In 1969 a 30-minute newscast was 30 minutes of news. Now it has been reduced to about 16 minutes of sound bytes.

And then there are the local affiliates of the news stations, the NBC, ABC, CBS and Fox stations in your market. Most of them have added news programs and now run from 60-90 minutes of local news before the network addition. Again we must compare what has happened. Back in the old days local news had reporters, wire services, and a desire to educate and inform the viewer. Today the focus of local news is “light features and sensational crimes” according to the news consultants for the stations.

It is not uncommon to see the exact same criminal report aired on the evening news, morning news and noon news with no changes or updates. Worse yet, in the morning news it may repeat every hour or more. In our nation’s capitol where you might expect to at least be kept abreast of world affairs finding a story on world news is almost impossible. Who decided what happens in the world is of no interest to Americans?

If networks are continuing their decades long loss of viewers, it is because they are continuing to censor stories of interest to the public for more sensational fare they think might appeal. A rape, murder or mugging in our nation’s capitol gets far more play than millions of people dying in Africa, the unease of the world stock markets, or the fining of a pharmaceutical company (Merck) $671 million dollars for stealing money from Medicaid and paying millions of dollars in bribes to our nation’s doctors.

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